Lomandra is a perennial plant native to Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. (1) It has a consistent form and is a tough reliable plant. Lomandra has a great deal of importance to Australia in its changing environment, from having lineages that date back to the Early Crustaceous (2) to modern day usage for both commercial and domestic applications. Lomandra is essential to the indigenous flora, fauna and communities of Australia and the Aborigines value it as food, and as a means to obtain food. Lomandra can be in both short supply and abundant supply, depending on where the location is, making it popular at both ends of the spectrum.
With a tolerance to most soils and semi shade or no shade, Lomandra is a tough survivor. It is a tussock of erect leaves that can gently hang over in maturity, with flower heads produced among the leaves. The leaves are commonly found to be in the shades of greens and blues and the flowers are usually of the colour white, blue, pink, mauve, or purple. Among the many species, there are variants in colours, size and growth habit. The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families lists 68 accepted Lomandra species (9) but this number has been increasing through the years and may extend to further assessments.
Lomandra comes from the Asparagaceae family, and the sub family, Lomandroideae. While it is recognised as a monocot, it had previously been treated as a separate family, Laxmanniaceae, but since the change in the APG III system of 2009 (3) it is failing to be accepted us such (4). Likewise, it is treated as a Lomandraceae Lotsy in the Kubitzi system (5) but is not accepted as this elsewhere. (6) Lomandra is considered to be dioecious, (7) which are having the male and female reproductive organs in separate flowers on separate plants, but, it has been suggested that some Lomandra species may be agamospermic (8) which is defined by the formation of seeds in the absence of fertilisation.
From the coast to the mountains of Australia, Lomandra can be found. While we can assess Lomandra as a Cretaceous monocot fossil (10) there are also new records being found at the Newnes Plateau. The Newnes Plateau at 1000-1300m elevation above sea level is the highest sandstone landscape in the Blue Mountains and is of special interest for botanical exploration. With no prior records of surveying of this land, until being accessible by train since 1906, the biodiversity and the elevation offers a unique opportunity. Of the 590 plant species recorded to be found at the Newnes Plateau, 8 of these species have been Lomandra. (11)
One of the species found at the Newnes Plateau and one commonly found in Australia’s natural landscape is Lomandra longifolia, it is also known as Spiny-Headed Matt-Rush. It can be found in the wild among sand dunes, edges of creek beds, open forests and open rainforest. The Aboriginal word for Lomandra longifolia is Gurgi in the Sydney area. (12) The Aborigines from this area were also known to use it as a bush medicine by crushing the roots to relieve pain from bites and stings and strapping an injured limb tightly with the leaves. Around Australia, the leaves have also been used for the purpose of fishing, commonly eel traps. The leaves were gathered and soaked to make them pliable for weaving together to form a basket. (13)While Lomandra longifolia can help catch food, it can also be the source of it. The raw flowers have a fresh pea taste. The male plants are easier to harvest but both sexes are used. The raw bases of the leaves also provide a flavour of green peas. (14) Likewise, if seeds could be harvested, they were ground down to a flour to make cakes. (15)
Lomandra longifolia can provide a great source of protection, in the wild and domestic applications, for small mammals, reptiles and birds and it attracts many frogs, birds, blue tongue lizards and skinks. A variety of Skipper butterfly are attracted to a range of Lomandra species, such as the Trapezites phigalia (Phigalia Rush-skipper) who uses them as a Larval food-host. (16) Lomandra also acts as a good erosion control for waterways and it gets used in commercial, government and even domestic plantings as a bio filter. Mass plantings are popular as a landscaping accent or as a control for a water system. Because of the desire to utilise them in mass plantings, Lomandra is commonly produced in plant tissue culture to achieve uniformity and commercial numbers.
Lomandra and its importance cannot be underestimated. In 1997, Lomandra filiformis and Lomandra multiflora were listed as one of the plant species in the Cumberland Plain Woodland. As only 6% of the original extent of the community remained in 1988, it was added to the Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995 No. 101. (17) Another example was in 2011 when Lomandra multiflora subsp. Dura and Lomandra effusa became protected in the Iron-grass Natural Temperate Grassland of South Australia. The small amount of natural temperate grassland of this type still remaining is now protected under Australia’s national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (18).
While under threat in some areas, domestically some Lomandra can be found in abundance. The ‘native’ home garden is becoming a popular theme and this allows for some planting of some good natural species when sourced from a credible supplier. Walk in to any garden centre however and the labelling and variation in varieties of the same species will be in disarray. While it is business marketing to brand a product, it can also lead to some confusion as to the correct species being planted.
Whether the Lomandra is dated back in history or found on some unexplored ground, Australia has recognised and utilised this plant, and its many species. Australia continues to ensure that it remains important not only for the current flora and fauna, the communities, the commercial industries and the home gardeners, but also as an important value to understanding the past and securing the future of the Australian landscape.